Pruning cannabis is actually one of the most important parts of nurturing its growth. Learn why and how to do it properly.

The Art of Pruning Cannabis

Cannabis growers know that it’s important to tend carefully to plants throughout their life cycle – from seed to harvest to processing, and, finally, extraction.

Yet best practices for caring for your cannabis plants aren't always obvious. One of the areas that can cause growers problems is proper pruning. When it comes to pruning cannabis, many cultivators wonder: when, how often, and how much to prune? 

When done right, pruning leads to healthier plants that grow higher quality buds. Read on to find out how proper pruning can improve the health of your plants and increase the size and quality of your next harvest.

Pruning Cannabis

Why Prune Cannabis?

When Do You Start Pruning Cannabis?

Using the Right Tools

Knowing What to Prune (Cannabis Pruning Techniques)

How Often Should You Prune?

More Pruning Cannabis FAQs

SunMed grower with gloved hand pruning cannabis

Pruning is the strategic removal of specific parts of the plant, mainly unnecessary leaves, stems, and branches, to promote growth and redirect the plant's energy to its budding sites.

Pruning cannabis ensures that the plant focuses its resources on producing larger, more potent, and flavorful buds.

Additionally, pruning enhances airflow and light exposure, reducing the risk of mold and pests, and allowing each bud to get its share of nourishment. 

Generally, the pruning process begins during the vegetative stage. The vegetative stage, which lasts from around week 3 to week 16 for cannabis, is when the plant establishes its foundational growth. At this juncture, the plant is focusing on producing leaves and branches, and not yet concerned with flowering.

Don’t begin pruning too early. Pruning cannabis while the plant is still a seedling hinders growth. Once the plant has developed a sturdy stem and multiple sets of leaves — typically a few weeks after germination — it's ready for its first light pruning. In this early stage of pruning, focus on the removal of dead or yellowing leaves, which can drain the plant's energy.

As the plant matures further into the vegetative stage, you can begin more aggressive pruning. By understanding and respecting the plant's growth phases, growers can determine the ideal times to intervene and guide the plant's development.

Investing in high-quality pruning tools not only makes the pruning process smoother, it also minimizes stress to the plant. For most pruning tasks, a pair of sharp, sterilized pruning shears is essential. These shears should be comfortable to hold, allowing for clean and accurate cuts. For tighter spaces or for removing smaller leaves and stems, precision-tip pruning scissors can be useful.

Whatever tool you use for pruning, make sure to regularly clean and sterilize it. This practice prevents the spread of diseases and pests from one plant to another.

Lastly, always have a pair of gloves on hand. Not only do they protect your hands from sticky resin, but they also prevent the transfer of oils and potential contaminants from your skin to the plants.

Needle nosed plier for inspecting cannabis buds

As we dive into the specifics of pruning cannabis, keep in mind that not all pruning methods are the same. Different techniques aim to achieve different results, whether it's to encourage a bushier growth, to increase bud sites, or to optimize light and airflow. 

Understanding the parts of the plant to prune, and which pruning methods to employ for different goals, will allow you to shape your cannabis plant’s growth and output. 

Pruning vs. Topping

Though the terms “pruning” and “topping” are often used interchangeably, these are distinct techniques with different purposes.

Pruning typically refers to the selective removal of leaves and non-essential branches, allowing for better airflow and light penetration, while also redirecting energy to the budding sites. It’s a continuous process and can be done throughout the plant's growth cycle.

Topping, on the other hand, is a bit more aggressive. It involves cutting off the top of the main stem, usually during the vegetative stage. The primary purpose of topping is to promote the growth of two main stems instead of one, leading to a bushier plant with more bud sites. While it may seem drastic, topping can significantly increase the plant’s overall yield.

What is Lollipopping?

Lollipopping is a specialized pruning technique aimed at focusing the plant's energy on its upper, more light-receptive branches. 

Lollipopping involves removing the lower one-third of the plant's branches and foliage, which typically receive less light. By eliminating these shaded sections, you can prevent the plant from wasting energy on buds that would otherwise remain underdeveloped while also improving air circulation.

The result is a plant that resembles a lollipop in structure: bare at the bottom with a flourishing canopy on top. 

During the vegetative stage, regular pruning is beneficial. As the plant focuses on producing leaves and branches, you can prune every week or two, helping to shape the plant and encourage desired growth patterns. However, be sure not to over-prune, as removing too much at once can stress the plant.

As the plant transitions to the flowering stage, it’s a good idea to decrease the frequency of pruning. While it's important to continue removing yellowing or dead leaves to ensure good airflow, aggressive pruning at this stage is counterproductive. During the flowering stage, the plant should be focusing its energy on bud development, and major changes to its structure can be disruptive.

person touches large growing cannabis leaf

If you’re looking for more information on best practices for tending cannabis, check out our answers to some frequently asked questions about pruning below. 

How long does it take a cannabis plant to recover from pruning?

Typically, a healthy cannabis plant will show signs of recovery within a few days to a week after a light pruning session. After more aggressive pruning or topping, it may take up to two weeks for the plant to bounce back fully. Always ensure that the plant is well-watered and receives adequate nutrients during the recovery phase to support its regrowth.

Can you over defoliate cannabis?

Yes, over-defoliation – or the removal of too many leaves – is a common concern in cannabis cultivation. While pruning is beneficial for redirecting energy and increasing yields, removing too many leaves can stress the plant and hinder its ability to photosynthesize effectively. It's crucial to strike a balance and ensure you're not removing more than 20-30% of the plant's foliage at any given time.

Do you prune above or below a leaf?

When pruning cannabis, the general rule is to make your cut just above the node where the leaf or branch connects to the main stem. By cutting above the node, you allow the plant to heal more efficiently and reduce the risk of diseases or pests. 

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